‘Good comedy is tragedy narrowly averted’ Jonathan Bate
The Two Gentlemen of Verona: Act V
Over the past year I’ve used the question ‘What’s in a name?’ more than once, dismissing labelling in its many forms, but this feels the best way of articulating my unease with The Two Gentlemen as I finish the play …
Thus far, I feel like I’ve been quite objective about the play, glossing over the obvious errors about travelling by boat between land-locked cities, etc. I’m not one to lionise Shakespeare (whatever my other half thinks), but nor am I interested in joining the current fad I see online for ‘dissing’ him.
Having said that, Act IV begins with a ‘mote to trouble the mind’s eye‘, though – and more on it later, but Act V trumps even this episode. What am I talking about?
Ponytail Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew, Act V
When I was about 8, I vividly remember having a competition with a lad called David – surname O’Toole, if I remember correctly – who shortly afterwards moved to Australia.The competition took place in school and could have been called:“Let’s see who can piss the highest against the wall.”David won.I moved on.
But many boys and men never really graduate from that game – they just play variations on it, like:
I’ve got further with a girl than you have;
the girls who like me are hotter than the ones who like you; then, once they’re older
remind me what you drive again; and
who’s your daddy?
I also get, by the way, the occasional sneering “But Shakespeare didn’t even write those plays.”Never backed up by evidence.Never by anyone who has actually read the plays themselves.But they drive better cars than me (not difficult, since I don’t drive), so they must be right, surely?You are NOT my daddy. But you ARE a ‘three-inch fool‘, to quote this play.
Overall, The Taming of the Shrew is in many places an embarrassing reminder that ‘laddishness’ hasn’t changed in at least 400 years – that men are constantly pissing up the wall against each other.No more obviously than in Act 5.
So, as we enter the final stretch, you’d think that we teachers would be winding down, right? Imitating Will Kemp in his warm up for his ‘Nine Days’ Wonder‘, by cavorting up and down the corridors of the English block in carefree abandon, greeting fellow English teachers with a hearty ‘hey, nonny nonny!‘ as we pass their empty classrooms?
Not a bit of it, sadly. Whilst our exam classes have donned their gladrags and tottered off into the distance on their improbable high heels (and that’s just the boys, obviously), we’re left with end-of-year assessments for everyone else, which naturally have to be turned around pretty damn quickly.
… as The Bossmight remark. A guy who, perhaps appositely in the light of this post, I admire for his authenticity as much as his music.
The Taming of the Shrew: Act III
By now, I wonder if anyone is who they say they are in this play. Poor old Christopher Sly‘s been conned into thinking he’s a Lord with a young, beautiful wife, remember: and that was BEFOREthe play properly started … When I see the Stage Direction:
“Enter LUCENTIO [as Cambio], HORTENSIO [as Licio] and BIANCA”
(who I suspect is not as pure, dutiful, or even as nice as she seems), my heart sinks a little.
Five down, one to go. The end of the penultimate half-term of the school year brings a sense of giddy euphoria. And, just for once, I’m actually having a holiday … I’ll be spending next week in Transylvania. Thisisthe final instalment of a ‘Dracula’ pilgrimage which has seen me move eastwards: from actually being quite scared at the Bram Stoker museum in Dublin; to standing in schoolboyish excitement on the beach at Whitby, on the spot where the Demetr would have grounded, vomiting Dracula onto the shore in the form of a huge black dog; and now to the Carpathians …
Has this got anything to do with Shakespeare? Shouldn’t I just blog about this somewhere else?
For a while now, it’s been a vague ambition of mine to catalogue, mind map, or in some other way classify Shakespeare’s comedy, both in the comedic plays and elsewhere.In doing so I AM mindful (for those who know their SF) of the Asimov short, ‘Jokester’ (1956), where finally getting an answer as to why humans laugh results in humour dying forever …
Still, I’m always and increasingly drawing intertextual links between and beyond Shakespeare’s plays, and this is what strikes me about what Arden calls the ‘Induction’ – the Christopher Sly frame.It’s a cousin, maybe an ancestor, of the Rabelaisean idea of ‘Carnival’ that appears later on in: